Theory of relative suffering

Theory of relative suffering

The Theory of Relative Suffering is a theory presented in the writing of the Canadian essayist Kevin Draper. The theory pertains to how human beings perceive their own suffering and pain in relation to an objective sense of how an individual’s suffering is lesser or greater than that of another person.


Draper’s theory is built on over a span of four of his socio-political essays, starting with "The Odyssey of a Callous Conservative: The Saga of Mike Harris" and continuing in "Musings From Satori: Where Western Democracy Went Wrong, It Really Isn’t That Bad: A Half-Hearted Defense of Third-World Child Labour" and being essentially wrapped up in "Culture of Fear & Doom: An Analysis of the Prevalent Contemporary Human Condition". While Mr. Draper refers to the theory in some of his other writing, these are the four major works of his that outline the basis of the theory and offer comprehensive explanations of the theory and how he believes it to apply to the world.

Mainstream Attention

Draper’s theory has been published in whole and in part in a variety of magazines, periodicals and other forms of media. These have been primarily smaller Canadian publications; however he has been quoted in Macleans magazine along with an online CBC article in reference to his theory.

The Theory

The Theory of Relative Suffering asserts that while some human suffering is objectively worse than other types, the most profound suffering that individuals feel is essentially of the same subjective significance.


An example that Draper commonly alluded to in building his theory is the case of a child born into a third-world country that is plagued by famine, by contrast to a rich teenager in the Americas whose parents’ money assures that he will never have to work hard to have anything that he wants.

Draper builds his theory by simulating the following scenario: If the child in the third-world country goes without food for several days and is afflicted with disease, and the rich teenager in the Americas is deprived of a video game that he has been waiting for the release of for several months as the store he wishes to purchase it at is sold out when he arrives to make his purchase, it is reasonable to say that the predicament of the child in the third-world country is objectively worse than that of the teenager from the Americas. However, since for both individuals the suffering that they feel is the worst that they have ever felt (as the rich teenager has never been deprived of anything he wanted so dearly before) it is true to say that their actual personal suffering is equal, as neither have felt anything worse and thus do not understand a greater pain.

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